Notes on Gone Vroom: Running Over an Indie Darling

Gone Vroom by Jon Remedios is a mod of Gone Home with a few minor changes here and there. To begin with, Gone Vroom shortens the game significantly, so much so that everything beyond unlocking the front door is shaved off. The other thing probably worth mentioning is that Gone Home’s protagonist, Kaitlin, has been replaced by a jaunty red sports car.

Made for Ludum Dare 41, following the theme “Combine 2 incompatible genres”, Gone Vroom only takes a few minutes to play, but still packs a surprising number of cute little details into the experience. The game is bracketed by voiceover work done by Remedios and his wife, her voice delivering the melodramatic monologue in the key of Fullbright at the beginning of the game and his voice doing so at the end. There is lots of talk of missing one another and loving one another and blame and forgiveness and all these very emotional things. Meanwhile, you are a car.

You are, in fact, a character in your own right, named Car. You are trapped in the vestibule of the grand family estate, and of course to open the door to the interior of the house you must root around in a bureau for a key. As you are a luxury vehicle, you have extreme difficulty moving within the vestibule. It’s a tight fit, front to back, and so in order to move (using WASD), it takes some doing. There’s a lot of slowly backing up, jerking forward and to the left or right, slowly rotating the vehicle until it’s oriented toward the bureau. You’re going to crash into both sets of doors a lot, but luckily this causes no apparent damage to the house. The engine groans, contrasted against the twee no-copyright music by Bensound that aptly captures the sensibility of the original game.

Finally, you face the bureau, and using left click you can retrieve the key to the door and contemplate also picking up a “Christmas duck.” It is useless to contemplate what a sentient car needs with a Christmas duck. We have already come this far.

There is some more jerking back and forth, backing up and going forward, until finally the car is reoriented toward the interior doors. You finally open them, Remedios’s voice fills your ears, and the game fades to black.

It would be ponderous to attempt any deep analysis of Gone Vroom. It’s a funny, quick parody of a darling indie title made according to the criteria of an inherently silly game jam. But I will admit that, as someone who quietly disliked Gone Home during the height of its popularity (and infamy, according to some corners of the gaming world), I did enjoy how Gone Vroom cleverly and succinctly broke the unbearable overwroughtness of the original game.

I want to be clear that this isn’t some kind of attack on the people who made Gone Home. Melodramatic and overwrought things are produced by thoughtful, well-meaning and competent people all the time. I also understand that Gone Home means something to a great many people who are accustomed to being underrepresented, under-served and generally mistreated both in the games industry and in the world at large. I don’t mean to discount those things, nor do I feel the need to pander to reactionaries whose animus toward the game isn’t really rooted in any sort of engaged criticism of it so much as it’s rooted in profound queerphobia and anxieties about being replaced in the cargo-cult culture they so disturbingly identify with.

All that said, I can’t say for certain if Gone Vroom is a parodical homage offering no more than a gentle ribbing or if there’s any intention toward biting satire. But it’s hard not to notice something to that effect when you turn the main character of an incredibly self-serious family drama into a sexy little red sports car. That deft ability to shift in tone is sorely lacking from a lot of games, but especially from a certain brand of indie games that always seemed committed to tapping into particular cultural zeitgeists and tugging at people’s heartstrings in a manner that felt to me to be cloying, affected and more than a little cynical.

None of this is to say that interactive stories can’t be dramatic or compelling or substantial, but I do feel that an era of indie games—perhaps one that has come and gone—was too interested in stacking the deck to prove how Important Games Are to also have the confidence to really push things into the avant-garde. It’s a sort of respectability politics for gamer aesthetes with something to prove (I have been this person), and I’m actually glad that we seem, as a whole, to have moved on from that whole episode.

That said, I’m not sure we learned anything. But perhaps the visible erosion and collapse of many closely held norms and institutions—the kind of thing you’d have faith in if you have a little capital and a belief in the Horatio Alger myth—has also led to a collapse of that obsession with respectability. Who are we trying to kid, anyway? Especially when we could bask with full confidence in the delightful absurdity of our chosen art form. There has been a critical breakdown of meaning, but maybe that means there’s a chance for something more interesting and more inventive to rise to the surface.

Beep beep.